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Should the NBA change the playoff format?

This week, National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver made headlines when during a Dallas Mavericks-Golden State Warriors game, stated that he is open to changing the league’s playoff system.

The 52-year-old New York native was asked on the Comcast SportsNet Bay Area broadcast about the growing notion that the league should do away with the conference format. The idea would be to put the teams with the best 16 records into the postseason, with each division guaranteed of its winner qualifying. Silver did not skirt the question, per ESPN.

“Ultimately, we want to see your best teams in the playoffs,” Silver said during Wednesday’s game. “And there is an imbalance and a certain unfairness.”

Silver, who has only been on the job for a season following David Stern’s retirement, has earned high marks from both players and owners. The commissioner handled the Donald Sterling controversy with brilliance and then watched as the Los Angeles Clippers were sold for $2 billion, the highest price tag of any team in North American sports. With those successful moments in mind, Silver has enough clout to make such a drastic change to the league’s system.

If the season ended today and the new format was implemented, 10 teams from the Western Conference would make the postseason with only six coming from the East. The Atlanta Hawks would be the top seed, followed by four West teams (the fifth seed is currently a tie between the Portland Trailblazers and Toronto Raptors, with Portland winning the head-to-head contest).

The two teams outside the playoff picture which would qualify under the new format would be the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder, sitting ninth and 10th respectively in the West. They would replace the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat of the East, both with losing records.

So why would the league hesitate to make the switch? A few reasons. For starters, the NBA has enjoyed this conference format since the league was created in 1947. By playing within geographically constructed conferences, teams avoid massive amounts of travel until the Finals. If the league had a best-16 format, there would be conceivable matchups of the Boston Celtics playing the Sacramento Kings in the first round, or the Raptors and Phoenix Suns squaring off.

Silver acknowledged that travel is a potential problem, but believes the imbalance between conferences is severe enough to consider a change anyway, per ESPN.

“I think that’s the kind of proposal we need to look at. There are travel issues, of course, but in this day and age every team, of course, has their own plane, travels charter,” Silver said. “… It’s something I’m going to look at closely with the competition committee. A lot of owners have strong feelings on it, but I think it is an area where we need to make a change.”

The Western Conference has been dominant since the Lakers rose to prominence at the turn of the century behind Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Since 1999, the West has won 11 of the 16 championships. More to the point, the conference has consistently boasted deeper playoff fields. Since the 2000-01 campaign, 21 Eastern teams have made the postseason at or below .500, compared to zero from the West.

Whether or not the league decides to make a change, it should be applauded they are willing to do what many pro leagues will not; consider and embrace controversial improvement.

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